Law slips into the darkness of the bathroom, letting the door creak closed behind him. Listening for the door to click, he twists the lock to ensure he’s alone and will not be disturbed.
He feels a small sense of peace and tranquility, of course not as peaceful or tranquil or even remotely comfortable as he would be if he were at home in his room, alone. Momentarily, he reflects on why he’s in a stranger’s bathroom while a party roars below him, the beat of the music thumping along with his heartbeat that he can feel in his throat. He doesn’t bother to turn the light on.
The moon is nearly full, and the sky remains unspoiled from cloud cover. When Law heaves up on the frosted glass window, light spills into the bathroom, illuminating the space in a monochrome. A slight breeze rolls in and Law pulls his black toque down to cover his ears.
It’s his dad who encouraged him to attend a high school house party that he would never have gone to, even if you paid him, and so he’s not sure why he agreed. Law hates parties and being around his classmates, and it’s particularly egregious when he doesn’t have to be. A friend asked him to come, otherwise he would have never been invited, but his friend hasn’t showed, and it hardly matters now. He’s alone in a house full of people who dislike him and it’s a nightmare.
Law pulls a cigarette out of the pocket of his canvas jacket. It’s bent a little from being crammed into his pocket with haste, but still usable. As he slid through the crowd downstairs when he first arrived and didn’t see any welcoming faces, he stole a cigarette from a pack he found on the kitchen island among the 26ers of cheap vodka and crumpled Molson cans.
He leans up against the wall and slides himself down to the floor, the cool tile exciting his skin with goose bumps. Law massages the cigarette back into shape and puts it between his lips. Although it’s dark, the light of the moon beams in across his body and he can see his hands. He rubs the skin where the pigment has left; in between his fingers and the palm of his hands, like cream splotches of paint splattered onto a his normally dark skin. The light patches will never go away, only become worse.
Law wants his dad to be right, that he’ll have fun here, maybe get a little tipsy so long as he doesn’t go overboard. Truthfully, his dad just wants him out of the house, and more importantly out of his room. His father knows that he gets bullied but doesn’t know to what extent and how relentlessly. It’s not in Law’s nature to express his disdain for his classmates or complain about the merciless name calling he receives—or even his condition. It’s the tip of the iceberg that Law’s dad is familiar with but has no notion of what’s lurking beneath.
The truth of the matter is that it affects Law more than he’s willing to admit. Ever since his disease started showing, he’s been ridiculed and ostracized, all over something he can’t control. And that’s the worst of it: even if he wanted to control it, even if he wanted to conform and be just like everybody else, there’s no way he can. There is no cure.
Law pats down his jean pockets for a lighter. Of course, I don’t have one, son of a bitch. He tilts his head back until it hits the wall behind him and groans loudly, hardly audible over the thrumming of the music downstairs. Luckily, the upstairs is off-limits to guests and Law can rest assured that he’s the only one who was uncomfortable enough in the fray to break this rule.
He tightens a fist and pounds it gently on the tile and pulls himself to his feet. Law rummages through the drawers of the bathroom vanity desperately looking for something to light his cigarette with. Nothing.
He leans over the sink resting his weight over his arms with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He sighs as he lowers his head in frustration. Law avoids the mirror hanging in front of him as he knows it will only cause him grief. Looking around the bathroom, he spots a flimsy matchbook on the toilet tank and grabs it. There are three left and the first one breaks as he strikes it across the strip. He tears another off and this time, folds the matchbook the opposite way and pulls the match through either side, striking the strip with more pressure. It hisses, puffing out a small plume of smoke as the acrid smell of the red phosphorus ignites the sulfur and fills Law’s nose. He brings it up to his cigarette, and reflexively cups his other hand around the tip. Law breaths in and throws the lit match into the toilet.
As the thick, warm smoke hits his lungs, Law is immediately met with a familiar calming throughout his body. Despite feeling scatterbrained the entire night, Law’s mind refocuses to his habit and can feel his head clear a little. As he exhales, he feels a little rush, tingling in his arms and legs, and for the first time tonight he feels content.
Law takes another drag and blows the smoke towards the open window. He shuts the lid of the toilet and takes a seat, slouching his body forward and digging his elbows into his thighs for support. A breeze catches the smoke as it dances in the space between Law and the window before being wisped out into the night. Suddenly, the door slams open and the light flicks on. A boy stands in the doorway, meeting Law’s eye as he glances up. He knows him, his name is Rue, which was short for Ruiz, his last name. Law isn't sure what his real name is.
“Oh, hey Patch,” Rue says nonchalantly, “didn’t expect to find you in here.”
Rue closes the door behind him, turns to the mirror and combs his fingers through his dark hair.
“Hilarious,” Law grumbles, his stare fixed to his cigarette as the end smolders in a quiet dignity.
“Patch, sorry—I don’t actually know your real name,” Rue says half apologetically.
“That door was supposed to be locked.”
“Oh, yeah that lock doesn’t work”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Law says bitterly. He takes another drag.
“Well, if not Patch then what?” His hazel eyes are vivacious, Law could see a spark behind them. Rue seems to be lost in the nuance of Law’s bitterness, but if nothing else, Rue’s gregarious nature stomped out any subtly.
“Law,” he says curtly.
“That’s an odd name too, but better than Patch, I guess.”
“It’s short for Lawson,” Law sighs.
“What are you doing hackin’ darts up here?” Rue asks, “darts are bad for you.”
“Spare me,” Law groans, “is there something you want?”
“Well, I came up here to throw a piss, somebody is yakin’ in the downstairs toilet.”
“Hmm,” Law hums as he takes another drag, “aren’t you worried you’ll catch my disease?” Smoke pours out of his nostrils with every word.
“Oh, I see, you’re sulking.”
“Man, whatever, go find a different toilet, this one is occupied,” Law snaps indignantly.
“I think your skin is kinda cool, actually, you look like a leopard. I don’t know anybody else with that, so I doubt its contagious.”
“Everybody else is stupid, like I’m not all that smart but I can figure out that its not contagious, whatever it is,” Rue says vehemently.
“Vitiligo,” Law says quietly, rubbing at the white patches on his hands again, his cigarette balancing between his fingers.
“Vit—V—vitil—whatever. It’s in your hair too? I always see you wearing that toque,” Rue gestures to Law and glances up at his hat. Law rubs his face with his free hand and pulls the toque off.
“Yeah, anywhere there’s pigment,” Law says. He feels embarrassed and scratches at his head as if trying to cover it back up again. Loud patches of blonde, almost white hair litters the boys nearly black hair, “unfortunately, I can’t wear a balaclava.”
He gestures at his face where the white patches have taken over the creases on either side of his nostrils, the skin above and below both eyes and his left eyelashes, and the corners of his mouth. The patches invade his cheeks and creep into his hairline.
“That’s really amazing, Law,” Rue says in admiration, “I mean it. You’re rare, my man”
Law shoves his toque back on his unruly hair, “you’re the only one who thinks that.”
“What do you care what those people downstairs think? I mean, why are you even here? Besides to have a one-man darty-party in my bathroom.”
Law stares down at the tiles between his knees, and speaks quietly, “I don’t know.” He reaches over and squishes the cigarette into the side of the sink, “sorry.”
“I think you came because you wanted to prove you’re not a freak. What better opportunity? Rue shrugs distantly.
“What do you care?”
“Cause we’re friends!” Rue thunders with a big grin.
“No we’re not,” Law scoffs, “you can’t just decide that after a two minute conversation in the bathroom.”
“Well, I just did.”
Law roll his eyes, but there’s a tone of unwavering resolve in Rue’s voice, which made him believe what he’d said. Rue grins widely.
“Anyway, I’m just gonna head home. I was waiting for a friend who never showed.”
“So you came into my house just to stink the place up with a dart and leave?” Rue says incredulously. Law stands up and brushes past him reaching for the doorknob, “look, I’m not going to pretend to know what it’s like to have viti—vito—that condition. I know what they say about you, I hear them talk. Most of them don’t get it and like parasites, they’ll latch onto the things you hate most about yourself and suck the life out of you. But you’re letting them define who you are. You showcase this disease like that’s all there is to you. They think you’re a freak because they don’t know any better, Law. And when you don’t correct them, it makes them think they’re right. Most people take your silence on the matter as affirmation.”
Law turns back to Rue in stunned silence, “why do you care so much?”
Rue shrugs, “I dunno."
“I don’t correct them because I don’t care.”
“Whatever, Law. I think you’re letting everybody think what they want because you’re afraid they won’t like you anyway. Then it won’t just be because you’re a freak, because of something you can’t control, it’ll be because of your own personality flaws that you refuse to work on."
“You’ve known me for all of ten minutes and you have the audacity to spit garbage like this?”
“I’m telling you this as a friend—"
“We’re not friends!” Law spits.
“Harsh, my dude.”
“Leave me alone,” Law grumbles, pushing the door open and walking away.
Law drags himself down the stairs to where the party is and pushes through the crowd of people. He can feel the people who notice him recoil.
“Yo, Patch Adams!” Law hears someone yell over the lull in the music. The smell of stale liquor and sweaty teen bodies hangs heavy in the air like a thick blanket.
But he can’t get Rue out of his head. Law tells himself daily that he doesn’t care, that even if he tries to explain himself or his condition to them that it wouldn’t make a difference. He’d still be made fun of. But there, nipping at the back of his mind, was Rue asking him, why are you here? Why are you here? Why should they try if you don’t even try yourself?
Rue is right. More than anything Law was letting the vitiligo dictate his existence. It controls who he talks to, it controls where he goes, it controls what he wears, it controls how he thinks. But moreover, his skin is a distraction, to distract from the real Law. He wears his vitiligo as an armor, as an excuse to withdrawal from everything. These were the lessons that his dad was trying to hit home for him, why he told Law to go have fun. Law put up walls to keep himself in, not to keep people out. Maybe he didn’t give his dad enough credit. But if everyone is so cruel about his skin, the only thing they knew for certain about Law, how much crueler could they be if he allowed them to see further? But even if they continue to ridicule him, at least he can say he tried. At least he doesn’t have to feel like a coward anymore.
Law finds himself outside, the world swirling around him. Both Rue and his dad tried to help him understand that there’s nothing wrong with him, his skin isn’t a flaw, they are marks of honour and its okay to break the shell of vitiligo. Law wanted, for as long as he has had vitiligo, to be unapologetically himself. He felt held back by his skin, but it’s him—it’s always just been him. Why should he be ashamed of something he can’t control? It’s like having green eyes or blonde hair. It’s genetic.
Law turns on his heels and pushes back into the house, past the onlookers and to the Bose sound system blaring the music and hits pause. A collective sigh of disappointment echoes throughout the living room.
“Ahem,” Law clears his throat, “Listen up, I have something to say.”
“Patch?” Law hears someone ask from the murmuring crowd. He looks onward into the people, all of them staring at him, some in annoyance, and some in genuine interest. The stares made Law feel like a curiosity at a circus, and he stands there silently for a moment. And in those moments, he could feel his heart beating like a hammer in his throat as the muscles clench in his jaw. He feels dizzy, his face is on fire and he’s shaking. Law swallows nervously, and yells:
“My name is Law, not Patch. I have vitiligo. My skin is two different colours. It doesn’t hurt and it isn’t contagious…And there’s nothing I can do about it. So if you have questions, ask them now.”
The room falls to stunned silence and wide eyes fall to Law. You can hear a pin drop. A few moments pass as the room, Law hopes, absorbs what he just said.
A tall boy with a Letterman jacket and two beers in either hand breaks the silence: “Uhh, Law, can you just hit the play button there? Thanks bud.”
Law mindlessly turns to the speaker and presses the play button, and the party continues. He didn’t call me Patch.
Unsure what to feel, Law once again slides through the crowd, to the front door and leaves.
Rue is standing outside waiting for Law.
“Find what you were looking for here?” he asks.
“I’m not sure,” Law replies, still rather dazed.
“Well, now people know you’re not called Patch.” Rue grins.
“Yeah, that feels nice.”
“I’m glad you had the courage to stand up for yourself,” Rue hangs his arm around Law’s shoulder, regardless of the fact he was several inches shorter than Law, “you need to be nicer to yourself.”
“I guess,” Law rolls his eyes as they walk together to the end of the lane-way.
“You’re gonna be okay, you know that, eh?” Rue says stopping at his mailbox. Law continues down the street.
“I’ll see you on Monday, Rue,” Law says, shoving his fists into his pockets.
“Later,” Rue waves excitably with a grin.
The night is warm, so Law pulls off his toque, brushes his hand through his hair and head home.